TOWNSEND -- Town Moderator Gene Rauhala is stepping down from his post to focus on his campaign for state representative.
Rauhala, a Democrat from Townsend, announced his candidacy for state representative for the 1st Middlesex District in March, and said Friday that he does not believe it makes sense to continue serving as moderator.
"It's an uncomfortable fit to be a town moderator and to be campaigning on political issues. You lose your air of impartiality at certain levels. I didn't want to put people in that position, nor did I want to be in that position," Rauhala said.
He is expected to officially resign at the May 20 Board of Selectmen meeting.
In his 16 years as town moderator, Rauhala said he has enjoyed watching the democratic process unfold on Town Meeting floor.
From his first trip to Town Meeting when he was in the seventh-grade, to his final year presiding over the meeting, he said he has always been fascinated by the Town Meeting system.
"Way back then I enjoyed Town Meeting and when I got the opportunity to serve, it was really a great fulfillment of what I expected it would be," Rauhala said.
"I'm a firm advocate of the Town Meeting form of government. It's one of the purest forms of democracy to get to legislate the rules for your own jurisdiction," he added.
According to Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan, Rauhala can only be replaced through an election, not an appointment.
Whether the town would wait until next April's election to fill that vacancy, vote on it during another election or call a special election to address it specifically, is a decision selectmen have yet to make, Sheehan said.
In the meantime, Deputy Town Moderator John Barrett will moderate any Town Meetings that are called between now and the time that a new moderator is elected.
The 1st Middlesex District is made up of Ashby, Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell and Townsend. The state representative seat is currently held by Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, who is seeking re-election.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.